The Surprising Consequences of the Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

It’s no surprise to think that the Catholic sex abuse scandal has resulted in people leaving the church, but where did they go? When one is disappointed in a religious institutions, does one give up religion altogether or find a substitute? Daniel Hungerman, an economist at Notre Dame, has looked at this issue and he came out with a paper entitled: “Substitution and Stigma: Evidence on Religious Competition from the Catholic Sex-Abuse Scandal.” Here is its abstract:

This paper considers substituting one charitable activity for another in the context of religious practice. I examine the impact of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal on both Catholic and non-Catholic religiosity. I find that the scandal led to a 2-million-member fall in the Catholic population that was compensated by an increase in non-Catholic participation and by an increase in non-affiliation. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest the scandal generated over 3 billion dollars in donations to non-Catholic faiths. Those substituting out of Catholicism frequently chose highly dissimilar alternatives; for example, Baptist churches gained significantly from the scandal while the Episcopal Church did not. These results challenge several theories of religious participation and suggest that regulatory policies or other shocks specific to one religious group could have important spillover effects on other religious groups.

What I find interesting is that people would leave the Catholic faith for a Baptist church but not the Episcopal Church. The liturgical form of worship is much more similar at the Episcopal Church, but perhaps the moral beliefs and congregational life are more similar at Baptist churches.

Thanks to David Weakliem for the link.

Interview on 100 Huntley Street

100 Huntley Street is one of Canada’s top religious programs, and here’s an interview that I did with them over the summer for my book Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of the World.

I did several dozen interviews on radio and a few on tv, and this one went really well because the host, Jim Cantelon, is not only a good interviewer, but he had read and thought about the book, and so he had interesting, challenging questions. From my own experience, and talking to other authors, it turns out that most (maybe 2 in 3, 3 in 4?) interviewers don’t read a book before interviewing the author about it. The rely on the marketing materials that publisher sends them, which include possible questions, or they skim through the table of contents.

Note that I’m wearing white gym socks… I forgot to pack dress socks. [Read more...]

Does God Use Natural Disasters to Guide American Politics?

In recent weeks, I have written about my discomfort with people aligning religion with a particular party and the costs that it might impose. Today I examine what I view as an unhelpful instance of a bringing religion into a political debate.  I use this not to critique the candidate who said it, but rather to examine its underlying logic.

In August, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann told an audience in Florida that God had sent deadly tornadoes and earthquakes in recent weeks to indicate his displeasure with the high levels of federal spending. She said:

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people, because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet, and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

(Bachmann later claimed that she was joking, but having listened to her statement a couple of times, I’m not so sure.)

Whereas most religion-politics linkages take the form of “we’re on God’s side”, this takes it one step further and says “God is on our side.”

I’m quite comfortable with the idea of God communicating directly with people, but as I understand scripture [Read more...]

Why pastors should plagiarize in their sermons

I’ve been thinking about the differences between classroom teaching and pulpit preaching.

When I teach, I use the work of many scholars to help students understand the material, with proper citation of course.  Yes, I give my own ideas and analyses (and probably more than I need), but the the core of my material is the work of others.  If I had to present *only* my own ideas, the class would be about an hour or two long, and then I’d have to call it for the semester.

In contrast, there seems to be a norm among pastors that all sermons have to be original in idea and expression. The problem is that this is very hard to do; I know I couldn’t produce an original, useful 20-30 talk every week.  So, a lot of sermons aren’t really that good.

This leads me to wonder why pastors do not [Read more...]